For most of this week, I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about. I’ve been busy and tired, feeling as though I’m being pulled in a hundred different directions. To be honest, I haven’t really had much time for God this week and even when I did make the time I haven’t been able shut off my mind long enough to focus on Him. As a result, I’ve found myself feeling rather distant from God; I’ve missed that sense of God’s immediate presence in my life.
I got to share with a friend how I’ve been feeling lately. I really didn’t want to. I’m not very comfortable talking about how I feel, especially about abstract feelings of vague dissatisfaction and distance; I’d much rather deal in more defined emotions like anger or fear. I didn’t really want to share with my friend how I was feeling, but I respect his wisdom and I needed an opportunity to process, so I did. I’d like to share with you a principle he reminded me of that’s been a real blessing for me.
Sabbath is introduced in Exodus 20:8-11 as part of a section of commandments we call the ten commandments.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
The Sabbath can be defined as a day of spiritually focused rest. It was a day in which God’s people did no work so they could focus all their energies on seeking God. On this day, the priests would perform many services on behalf of the people and the entire nation’s eyes were directed towards God.
This particular command is repeated often throughout the Old Testament. Of all the commandments God gives His people for the purpose of glorifying His name among the nations, the Sabbath seems to receive particular attention. Its institution is tied back to the creation account in Genesis 1, which models even God resting on the seventh day.
God reveals some of His intent behind establishing the Sabbath through the prophet Ezekiel.
“I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” (Ezekiel 20:11, 12)
The Sabbath, in some sense, symbolizes the unique authority of God in the life of the one who observes it. According to this passage, the Sabbath was to show the world that God sanctified its observer. Some verses later, the Sabbath was reintroduced as a sign to the observer themselves or God’s authority.
Jesus had an interesting relationship with the Sabbath. He would sometimes heal on the Sabbath to irk the religious leaders of the day and clarify God’s vision for the Sabbath. On one occasion, He’s walking with His disciples in a field on the Sabbath and they begin to pluck some grains of wheat to the dismay of those ultra-orthodox religious leaders. In a scene that gets repeated a lot in Jesus’ ministry, they challenge Jesus about this. Jesus replies them, saying
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:26,27)
Jesus doesn’t condemn the Sabbath, but rather the legalism of the religious leaders. The Sabbath was meant not only to show the believer’s dependence on God but to serve the believer. We were never meant to be enslaved to a system of religious observance but to be blessed by God’s provision of rest. God is the focus of the Sabbath, and not the Sabbath itself.
Taking a Sabbath day is a practice I enjoyed during the first semester of this year. I was busier than I had ever been with new responsibilities with my campus ministry and with school, yet I found myself enjoying God more than I had at any point in my life. I made sure I took a day off everything each week to have an extended quiet time with God and to rest physically. It wasn’t easy and generally left me with more work for the other six days.
I don’t think I realized how valuable the Sabbath was until this semester. Deprived of this spiritually focused rest, I found myself necessarily relying on my own strength to serve God on my campus. My quiet times were simply not enough to quiet my heart in true dependence on God, and though they were regular(ish), I was not growing much in intimacy with God.
Why is spiritually focused rest important in the life of the believer? We are not mandated to find our salvation by observance of the Old Testament laws and so the Sabbath is not a ritual we must practice to please God; we please God by expressing faith in Jesus for reconciliation with God and living life with a mindset to please God by the empowering presence of His Holy Spirit within us. There is no law about when the Sabbath must be or even how long it must be observed for. Yet there are some principles within the Sabbath that have some value to the Christian today.
Sabbath requires faith: Very few people have time to take a Sabbath; there is always something we can be doing with any free time. A Sabbath is often something that needs to be scheduled in faith, trusting that God will redeem the time we take off.
Sabbath allows rest: This is especially important to anyone who spends significant time attending to the spiritual needs of others, either by introducing them to Jesus or helping them grow in knowing Him. This is more draining than we realize and we need to rest or risk burnout.
Sabbath allows reflection: I find that there are so many moments in which God reveals truths about Himself, about me or the world around me. These truths often go unrecognized or forgotten unless I take time to reflect and process what’s going on around me. I love journaling on a Sabbath because it helps me organize my thoughts and understand my thoughts and emotions.
Sabbath builds discipline: For a Sabbath to be truly restful, it needs to be planned. Work needs to be scheduled around it so it can be enjoyed without anxiety. This builds discipline in a very practical sense; at the very least it builds the discipline of time management.
Sabbath glorifies God: Jesus said, “The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is a spiritual discipline which re-establishes God on the throne of your life as it is practiced. Our hearts are reminded once again to remain dependent on Him in prayer, meditation on His Word, reflection on His blessings and preparation for His mission.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
like a signal on a hill.